- Author: Jenni Dodini
Whenever I get a call from my mom that starts with "Jennifer, I need for you to come over and do" whatever is on her mind in her yard at that moment, I get a little worried. This time, she wanted me to come over to "take care of the little Japanese maple sprouts." I calmly informed her that I have been known to be the killer of Japanese maples in the past. She didn't care. So, over I went and checked out the little sprouts. There were all kinds of little seedlings all around the area where she planted her maples that had been in pots in the back yard for YEARS! A couple of neighbors had already plucked up many of them. I dug up the ones that are pictured below and took them home in a plastic bag. Not really knowing what was the best way to proceed, I took little bits of the soil around the roots, so as not to shock the little trees. Once at home, and still not knowing the best way to proceed, I went to the laptop and started searching for info about what to do next.
Typing in "Japanese maple" into the search bar yielded mostly sites to purchase said maples and the many different hybrids available for purchase. Then, of course, there was Wikipedia, but nothing that was really informative. So, I typed in "what kind of soil do I plant a Japanese maple in?" TaDa!!!! Information!!! GardenDesign.com; RoyalHorticulturalSociety; and the best -JapaneseMapleLovers.com. That site had a good article about growing them from seed.
There was a really good picture of the tree with the flower clearly pointed out with a notation that the flowers are tiny and easily missed. So, the next time at Mom's, I went looking for the tiny flowers and I found them. Unfortunately, the picture that I tried to take of the flower, did not show it very well.
There are basically only two types of Japanese maple, those with green leaves - Acer palmatum, and those with red leaves - Acer palmatum atropurpurpeum. Then there are the hybrids, but if growing from seed, you will either get green or red, depending on the tree the seeds came from. Now I will have to wait and see what these seedlings grow up to look like because Mom has four different kinds planted there. The trees flower in the spring and form the seed pod which stays on the tree all summer and into the fall. The seeds have a little wing on them that looks like the wing of an insect that helps the seed float away from the tree. You can also pick the seeds from the tree. The seeds have a really hard shell that needs to be softened before the seed can germinate. In nature, this softening can take up to two years! So, I will guess that these little seedlings came from 2017 seeds and our heavy rains of the past two winters.
Unfortunately, I had to keep looking to find out what kind of soil because these little seeds were already growing nicely. I found that they grow best in slightly acidic, sandy, well-drained loam with a good amount of organic matter. They do not tolerate wet, dry, or very alkaline conditions. I then planted the little seedlings, mostly in the soil that I brought with me and mixed up some regular potting soil with some citrus and cactus soil for drainage and the end result is pictured below.
Now, I have entered the tough part of the process, keeping these baby trees alive. I'll follow the directions I found and protect them from direct sunlight from the first growing season, but try to ensure about 50% sunlight. At my house, that is not very easy, so they are getting some morning sun. The harder part is protecting them from hot, dry, and/or constant wind. The easy part will be to NOT fertilize during the first year.
So far, so good. They are still alive and about 2 weeks in the soil that I made. I'm going to give them a couple of weeks and then transplant in order to give the roots more room and better protect them from the elements.